You might have noticed that I include my email address at the end of every column. I want people to get in touch if they feel so moved, to share their feelings or their own parenting stories or give me helpful advice. Most of the time, that’s what I get — lovely, heartfelt notes from all over the region — but sometimes, the readers are not so kind.
The most predictable nastiness comes when I write about issues of race, or about racially-tinged themes — such as when I defended the parents of the 5-year-old who was shot on a walk to a city corner store to buy juice. Because I’ve anticipated the possibility of angry reader comments, I’m usually prepared if a zinger or two lands in my email inbox.
But I am always surprised — no matter how much it happens — when I get less-than-kind messages from readers about the ambivalence I sometimes feel about raising three young, talkative, loud, expensive, whiny, opinionated, forgetful, willful, messy, energetic, boundary-testing, snack-devouring, LOUD (did I say that already?) children.
One December, for example, I wrote (what I considered to be) a humorous column about having the “holiday aftermath sads.” On New Year’s Day, a woman sat at her computer and tapped out a pert email, admonishing me to “stop complaining so much” and remember that I was “blessed with health, a thriving company and three beautiful children.”
“Your problems are first-world,” she wrote, “and to read about them is boring.”
Hers is far from the only finger-wagging email I’ve received, but it’s one of the ones most suitable for reprinting. What I’ve learned from the judgment is that people have really strong opinions about how mothers should view parenting.
Recently, I was reading a Humans of New York post of a woman who was pictured holding an adorable baby in suspendered shorts. She described life with her new baby as “relentless and repetitive,” “mundane.” “It can be exhausting and depersonalizing,” she said, noting that she was looking forward to returning to her job as an emergency room doctor after maternity leave, and that the baby’s father would be staying home to care for him.
“There are certainly moments when it’s wonderful,” she said, of her new life as a parent. “But to believe motherhood is the most important job in the world, you’d have to believe your child is the most important person in the world.”
I debated whether I should read the comments, but I did it anyway. And I knew what to expect.
“Motherhood is THE most precious gift a woman can ever be given … there’s no better feeling in the world, to me as a mom,” wrote one commenter. “Any woman that doesn’t put your child first and foremost over a career, I’m sorry for your child.”
“I respect her opinion, but also wonder why they had a child at all. That’s also an option,” said another.
One commenter said the post “haunted me for days.”
“To those of you who feel your calling is something other than raising children, stop having children!!!!! Society is crumbling beneath your neglect. We can no longer absorb your narcissistic decisions.”
Like I said, really strong opinions.
I, for one, felt grateful to read the ER doc’s unfiltered thoughts. I recognized myself in some of what she bravely said, particularly during the early days of baby-rearing when each day bled into the next without respite and I truly wondered — some days — why we’d rushed so quickly to give up our carefree lives.
I remember thinking then that women, especially, don't talk enough about what motherhood is really like. (Or pregnancy or breastfeeding or marriage, for that matter.)
I vowed to myself that I would always tell the truth — my truth, at least — in writing or in person, about the fullness of parenting, the ups and downs, the magic and the mundanity. Sometimes it’s amazing; sometimes it’s really, really hard.
If we knew that all mothers at times feel fear, anxiety, doubt, unhappiness, restlessness, boredom, frustration, resentment, disappointment and wistfulness, along with all the joy, maybe, just maybe, we'd know that our first-world parenting problems — boring as they may be — are all normal.
And so are we.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 9-year-old sons, a 7-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.